Returning asylum seekers must not be harassed, rights group

Zimbabwean asylum seekers being repatriated from Britain should not be harassed or subjected to discrimination, a rights NGO has urged.

According to the official Herald newspaper, 10,000 Zimbabweans who failed to gain political refuge in Britain are to be forcibly repatriated in the coming months.

However, a British Home Office spokeswoman, Helen Bower, could not confirm the figures quoted in the Herald. She told IRIN that on 16 November the UK had announced its decision to end a blanket ban on the deportation of Zimbabwean asylum seekers, introduced in 2002, as it had been abused.

She could not provide details on a timeframe for the deportations.

In response to a question in parliament, the Herald quoted justice minister Patrick Chinamasa as saying, "We accept all our citizens, they are still Zimbabweans," adding that the returning asylum seekers would be welcomed.

Bidi Munyaradzi, director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association, told IRIN that "it would be unfortunate if some of those deported will be those with a well-founded fear of persecution, should they return home".

When he announced the British government's decision to end the ban on deportation of Zimbabwean asylum seekers, the British minister for citizenship and immigration, Des Browne, stressed that although "there has not been any improvement in conditions in Zimbabwe", removing the suspension on deportation was necessary, due to abuse of the system.

Munyaradzi pointed out that many people seeking asylum in Britain had been "subjected to unfair treatment and harassment" before leaving Zimbabwe. "Their security must be guaranteed - political ideology should not dictate the handling of these people when they come back home."